First Bloom

 

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First ever bloom on Baby Magnolia, discovered June 4th.

 

Back on May 15, 2015, I posted a blog titled, Magnolias, Progress and Patience. It was about how eight years prior a friend had dug up a seedling, basically a stick with two leaves and gave it to me to plant in my backyard. By 2015 it was full of leaves, yet till no blooms and I connected that to the birth of my writing career, progress slow and steady, but not published.

Here we are in 2017 and Baby Magnolia is ten years old and we have our first bloom, I see another one has developed since the weekend and I can’t help but smile. Patience does pay off. Again, I see a correlation with my writing career. I too have first bloom.

Although I have been a closet writer for a good part of my life, I didn’t get serious about it until 2014. Granted I have had a full, passionate and fullfilling career as an educator and I would never trade those years or wish them to finish prematurely, no matter what happens in the writing, teacher will be one of my labels for four to six more years. Of course if you ask me about it when the alarm goes off at five a.m., I will tell you I really look forward to the label retired teacher.

I say I got serious abut writing in 2014 because that is the year I consulted a professional and committed to a blog. It was also the year I wrote my first novel for publishing, I had written a few others, just for fun and not for public consumption. In 2015, like Baby Magnolia I had grown. I had proven myself disiplined enough to publish a weekly blog, but I was unsure of the next steps of getting my book, The Eyes Have It out into the world.

I had not bloomed. Then came 2016. I published two books last year and they did better than I had anticipated as an unknown author in a world full of books. I was encouraged. Perhaps when I retire from teaching, a writing career for an encore is a viable option. To keep the metaphor going I would say I finally produced a bud.

Here we are in June of 2017, book three is a short time from launch, books one and two are performing well and I, like Baby magnolia, appear to have a full bloom on the branch. I like to think years from now, both of us will be full of blooms.

Time, patience, persistence and most off all doing the work, those are the key ingredients to grow a career, no matter what field it is in. My wish for my students is that they grow up to live and work with purpose and fullfillment. If we follow our passions and focus on  culitvating a career and a life that contributes to our community and brings  joy to ourselves (Note I said joy and not money), then we ultimately bloom.

So, here we are with the first bloom. It is a reassuring sign to keep the faith and keep going. Plant those seedlings in your life, with a little care and patience you will be rewarded.

The Co-existing of Endings & Beginnings

 

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The Hwy 41 Old and New Bridge

A while ago I posted a picture of the small bridge right before the beginning of construction of the new bridge and wrote a blog about the loss of the charm in the name of progress.

The days of driving across the old bridge and feeling connected to the water are numbered. I am still a little sad about that, but I’m ultimately a practical person, much like my Grandmother Sawyer, I see little point of crying over what is done, if you don’t move along with the times, you get left behind in the dust. I believe getting caught in too much nostalgic thinking leads to early old age. Grandma lived to be 100 and she moved with the times exceptionally well for someone born before World War I.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my friends the Martins, invite me out on their boat for a cruise under the bridges, down the Wando and out into the Charleston Harbor and back. I can appreciate how the new bridge means no longer worrying about tide level and if your boat will be able to get under it or not.

This got me thinking about how old or new, things have their positives and their negatives. I also reflected how even as something comes to an end, there is rarely a void, the new, or the beginning overlaps or abuts the end.

I find this very apt in my teaching life, as I along with a chunk of our current staff are leaving our current school home to open a new school built nearby to alleviate overcrowding and serve new neighborhoods. There are positives and negatives, the negatives are primarily people I have to leave behind, fellow staff and families I won’t be able to teach their younger ones. However, some families are moving with me, as they live in the new attendance zone and I am moving with a principal and fellow staff, people I truly respect and love.

I’m still a little surprised to be making this transition. When we opened up Laurel Hill 12 years ago, I had believed that was the school I would retire from. At that time we had split from Pinckney due to overcrowding creating a k-2 school across the parking lot from what became the 3-5 school. It was exciting to migrate with my tribe and establish a new community. I am excited to be part of forming a new school community again.

It’s interesting times to be in the place where one phase is ending and one is beginning. Things are happening simultaneously and I find myself more reflective than usual. My emotions are in full swing and I am mentally and physically exhausted all at the same time. But I know from experience, this transition will bring growth and movement forward. This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be.

This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be. That is a transition I look forward to and also feel sad about at the same time, but I will have time to prepare and adjust to the idea.

So as the current endings bridge to the new beginnings, I have to cry a little and smile a lot, Moving forward is the road I must travel. New is not necessarily better, but it is a chance to refresh.

Forward, onward, upward, whichever you choose, I wish you movement in your life.

 

Introducing The Soul Believes It

 

The Soul Knows It Cover for Bookmark

Chris Berge of Berge Designs does it again! The cover art for book three captures the soul of this book.

Book Three now has a cover and once again I’m in awe of my cover designer Chris Berge. In The Soul Believes It, Lizzie discovers a letter and a family secret, that challenge her beliefs about family and where she comes from. This cover captures the essence of that.

The lowcountry is blessed to have live oaks, dripping with silvery, lacy Spanish moss. When I think soul, this tree comes to mind. If you are ever in the area, a visit to the Angel Oak tree on John’s Island (On the way to Kiawah and Seabrook), will prove it.

These trees are the east coast’s version of the Redwood forest out west. Live oaks are iconic on the campus of my alma mater, College of Charleston. Last year when one fell, alumni along with Charleston residents grieved. I was thrilled to read that much of the wood was salvaged so it could be transformed into items for sale. The proceeds going to the college’s scholarship fund. I have to think Shel Silverstein would appreciate this giving tree.

These trees bear witness here in the lowcountry. They give us shade against the brutal summer sun. The sight of the moss fluttering in the sea breeze, whispers, “You are home.” They’re solid, long-lived. They will be here long after we are gone.

Just like these poetic trees, our souls bear witness to our lives and stand solid if we only anchor ourselves to them in times of turmoil. Our souls can be shattered to their core and our beliefs can be challenged and possibly changed, but at the core, our souls are the essence of who we are and that gives us what we need to believe.

I hope you will enjou reading the third installment in the lowcountry home series. The book will be out in June. For now, let the cover intrigue you and inspire you to do some soul searching of your own.

 

 

Southern Girl Rule #2: Ladies have lovely lips.

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My growing collection of Lipsense products

Rule two has two parts. part one, what goes on your lips and part two, what crosses your lips.

Part one I’ll admit has always been a hard one for me, that is until my co-worker Amber introduced to me to a lip product I can’t destroy in minutes. I had a love-hate relationship with lipstick. I loved the colors and how polished wearing lipstick made me feel, but I hated how it ended up on my teeth, my glass etc. and was basically off my lips within twenty minutes of me applying it.

This lip product stays put all day and never leaves marks on anything, so I can kiss and not tell. I have become a major fan. Southern women know it’s important to leave the house put together even for a short run to the market. Lipstick can give the illusion of put together without having to do up your whole face. So part one of rule two I can follow with fidelity.

While lipstick is fun and girly it is not the important part of rule two. My friend Rachael who taught kindergarten and now pre-school has a saying that I have adopted and use with my students on a regular basis. “If it isn’t lovely, it doesn’t leave your lips.”

If only the world, particularly the political world would follow this simple rule, perhaps respect would grow and things might actually get accomplished. I am not advocating for women to be meek and un-opinionated, rather that we speak our thoughts with kindness and respect.

The most beautiful lips in the world will become the ugliest, if the words that cross them are cruel. With careful thought we can express strongly opinions, disagreements etc. in a way that doesn’t disparage the person we are conversing with. Empathy and compassion should be the screen through which our words are filtered.

So put on that Goddess, or Aussie Rose with a layer of Bombshell and gloss, just make sure your words are just as lovely.

Time To Get Down and Dirty

 

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This is what happens when you go to the garden center on a beautiful spring day.

I went in for a few ivy plants . . . as you can see I came away with much more. That is the risk you take when you visit the garden center on a beautiful spring day. Between the allure of the plants I also had time, it is Spring Break this week and day one was almost perfect.

I say almost because I started the day with a mammogram, but then I treated myself to a latte and then went to get my hair cut. On the way home I decided to pick up the ivy so I could replant the pots by my front door. Once there I had planned out my raised beds and my patio pots. So a car load later I made my way home.

I am on a deadline to finish book three and I diligently sat down and spilled about twelve-hundred words from my soul, before taking a gardening break. After an hour of mowing and playing in the dirt, I returned to write another thousand words before taking a pre-arranged conference call about an upcoming author’s panel I’m participating, in Greenville, South Carolina in May. Then I went back to the chapter and around a thousand words later, I was satisfied with Lizzie’s progress on her journey and I was drained of my creative juices. Another hour and a half in the garden and I feel charged again.

Charged and filthy dirty.  The only thing that could make this day better is if someone of the handsome and kind variety was whipping up dinner in the kitchen.  I love days like these when the ordinary things are enjoyed and savored. This is how I imagine the days will be when I move from teacher and writer to full-time writer.

There is something in the ancient part of my genes that responds to the garden. I don’t think my ancestors were city dwellers. I still yearn to be a genteel gardener whose gloves never get dirt on the inside and manages to still look presentable at the end of a session amongst the flowers. I blame Hollywood for this unattainable ideal. I’m happy to settle for dirt streaked limbs and face with my hair plastered against my head.

Gardening is life affirming. It stimulates the senses and inspires the artist within. I can hardly wait until I get to do it again tomorrow.

 

Endings are the First Step to a Beginning

 

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Sunset over the Charleston Harbor

The one constant in this life is ironically the fact that nothing stays the same. This is sometimes a relief and often disconcerting. My human experience so far has taught me I’m much more comfortable with the status quo and it sometimes takes a major event to nudge me off the cliff of the unknown. As the song goes, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

As I add to my years and I’d like to think my wisdom, I have realized a few things. First, if you approach a change with a little flexibility it makes for an easier transition. Second, if you are willing to take a risk, more often than not the reward will be greater than you could ever imagine. Finally, I have learned that change is going to happen whether you want it or not and if you reflect back it is easy to see how you have always come through the change stronger, wiser or fill in the blank for the attribute that made you better.

I still don’t rush out looking for opportunities to deal with change, but I am much more willing to accept it and even embrace it.  Case in point, I am changing to a new school next year. Not because there is anything wrong with my current school, in fact leaving it is hard on my heart. We are overcrowded and some of us are going to transition to a new building to start a brand new school. I am excited to be part of that and the change is made easier by the fact I am not making this change alone, but with colleagues I have worked with for years. Regardless, I have chosen this change.

Not all changes can be chosen. Some are thrust upon us in cruel and unexpected ways. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a disease, the break-up of a relationship, the betrayal of a friend. I have found if I am grounded in faith and thoughtful in my responses to these unwelcome events, I can navigate through them somehow intact.

Yes, change is a constant, but so is the passage of time. The sun will set and then rise again. Each day is an opportunity to live this life better, to embrace the changes and see where they will take us. So yes all things, good and bad and indifferent will come to an end, but these endings are really just the mile marker to the beginning.

 

Cultural Lessons

 

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Photo my friend Sally sent me from a shop in Hilton Head, SC

I enjoy aspects of many cultures around the world. Some of that comes from growing up in a nomadic military family and some from being an avid reader of novels set all over the world. Both inspired me to be open to visiting those places and adopting from those cultures customs I could enjoy in my own life.

When my friend Sally sent me this picture from a shop in nearby Hilton Head, South Carolina, it made me smile. I have a slight addiction to bags anyway (a tale for another time), but the message spoke to my soul. I might add the line, Live American, I absolutely love our country. I also think living American means appreciating the best the world has to offer and melding that into our own culture, we have been doing that for well over two-hundred years. I personally think that is what makes America a vibrant nation.

I might also change a few of the lines, I might Speak Kindness, Eat Italian, Love French and Read British, but one thing I would not change is, Smile Southern. Kindness and hospitality are still a hallmark of southern living. We need to be vigilant to keep that so and I dare say we should work hard to export it to the rest of the country and the world. My inner flower child thinks that what the world needs more than anything these days is love, kindness, empathy and yes lots of smiles.

Here in the south, we have our own way of dressing, cooking, decorating, gardening and storytelling. This lifestyle needs to be celebrated and preserved with care. I get alarmed when yet another charming local business in downtown Charleston is replaced by another national chain business you can find in any city around the country. I’m not opposed to those businesses, but I think they need to be off in a mall somewhere, not on a historic street. I had the same reaction when in London and Paris and saw shops like The GAP on prominent city streets, I wanted uniquely French and uniquely British.

Along that same vein, I think if you want to move here and live here, y’all are welcome as long as you respect and adopt our ways. We don’t cut people off in traffic or exhibit impatience when we need to wait in line. Above all use words of kindness, slow down and take time for conversation and above all smile and return smiles offered.

A smile is a simple thing that doesn’t cost a thing, yet it reaps goodwill and respect. It opens doors and lifts spirits. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, adopt the practice of a Southern smile and I promise good things will follow.

 

 

What Time Is It?

 

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My favorite watch.

I have been hyper-focused on time since the beginning of 2017. The passage of time, time management, how much time I have to do certain things or how little, depending on the subject.

I feel like the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. Sometimes when I look back I am overwhelmed by what I accomplished in 2016. I feel equally overwhelmed by what I need to accomplish in the coming year. So I take a deep breath and think about how no matter how I proceed, it will be day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute.

I am one busy girl. I teach full time, I tutor, and I write novels and try to learn about and manage all that goes into the life of an author. Plus I take care of a household and maintain relationships and carve out a little me-time here and there. It takes careful time management to make it work and occasionally I get off plan. Deep breathing. a step back, a re-prioritizing and then we’re back on track.

Like every adult, there are things we must do and things we want to do. Balancing that can be exhausting, sometimes I really wish there were twenty-six hours in a day. I also wish that there were times we could slow the passage of time down, think more days with our elderly loved ones. At other times I wish we could speed it up, think standing in line at the DMV.

The passage of time is unmerciful. We can let it have great influence in how we live our lives, or we can go with the flow as the optimists like to say. I hope when I get to the end of my life, ideally, age 108, I will be able to look back and think I used my time on this earth wisely. I also hope I managed to work in a fair number of days where I frittered the hours away doing things that brought me joy.

We don’t know how much time we have ultimately, but we do know it is finite. If you think about it too much you can stress yourself right out. As I’m typing this I’m stressing that I have only a few hours to get some chores done before I have to get into bed. Maybe I need to give myself permission to put some things off for another day and instead get some good snuggles in with my golden retrievers. I think it is safe to say at the end of my life I won’t be remembering how great it was that I got that other load of laundry done on a Wednesday night. Yes, the laundry will need to get done at some point, but if I only have so much time to spend, I want to spend it on more important things.

So I am choosing to think about time as a gift with an expiration date. I am going to make the most of the time I’ve got.

 

 

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New Year Essentials

 

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Collards, rice and black-eyed peas from Boone Hall Farms in Mount Pleasant, SC.

Here we are on the eve of the eve of a new year and the end to another. On the whole 2016 seems like a year of turmoil and confusion across the globe, but personally, it was one of my best year’s yet and I can not help being optimistic about 2017.

I want to make sure to start off on the best possible foot forward. Here in the South Carolina lowcountry, that means a New Year’s day meal of Hoppin’ John and collards. Sometimes I think to myself I might skip it, last year’s serving has never turned me into an independently wealthy woman, at least not in dollars. I am a bit fanatic about removing the veins from the collard leaves and that is a tedious process. Not to mention the washing of the collards, it is akin to trying to get the sand out of leeks.

But who am I to tempt fate or mess with tradition. As my friend Emily pointed out when I shared my reluctance to tackle the hassle, it can’t hurt to eat them, but what might happen if you don’t. I certainly appreciate all the luck I can get.

While I may not be rich by bank account measures. I sometimes feel like the richest woman in the world by other measures. I have the two most wonderful canines in the world living under my roof. I have a loving family. My work as a teacher and a writer feed my soul. I work with the most fantastic group of people and my friends are truly walking around with hearts of gold. I live in truly one of the most beautiful places in God’s creation. My needs are met and many of my wants. I have health and faith and joy.

Now before I am accused of wearing rose colored glasses, I should point out I face challenges, disappointments, setbacks and frustrations like everyone else. But when I scale these against the blessings I wax poetic on above, I am in awe of how rich I really am.

So maybe decades of eating Hoppin’ John and collards has added to my coffers after all. Happy New Year y’all! May you find 2017 blesses you in the things that truly matter.

 

The Big Lesson In A Day About Small

 

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On Small Business Saturday, this was the place I did a book signing.

The Small Business Saturday after Black Friday has been gaining momentum in the past few years. I try to make a habit to shop in non-corporate  stores as much as I can and in Mount Pleasant we are blessed with some wonderful small businesses. Unfortunately, we don’t have an independent bookseller, although there are a few in the wider area. We do have a Barnes and Noble and I do patronize the store, I appreciate the teacher discount card and the fact that I can have a decent browsing experience. At one time I knew one of the managers by name, we had worked on a joint project together, but she is no longer with the company . While the employees are generally helpful, they don’t know me from Adam and there isn’t a connection.

Contrast what I observed in My Sister’s Books in Pawley’s Island. This store is an interesting place run by sisters. They only deal in paperbacks and audio books. There is a mix of new and used and it would literally take days to browse all the shelves. As I sat by my signing table I was struck by how many customers the owners greeted by name. It was obvious they had many regular and long-standing costumers who loved to trade in books, buy books and talk books. I also observed a family with husbands, wives, and children, spending their Thanksgiving at the beach, come in and all family members found a book or two. So many readers! I met a mystery author a children’s author and a photographer who had a book of stunning photos all taken at Pawley’s.

I met a mystery author, a children’s author and a photographer who had a book of stunning photos all taken at Pawley’s. We had all been invited to celebrate the Small Business Saturday. I even managed to shop for a few books while I was there. I enjoyed answering questions about my book and why I got into writing. I also enjoyed discussing other books and genres with readers. It was truly an enjoyable experience.

The big lesson I took away from the experience is the connections small businesses can make with customers makes the business so much more than buying and selling. The owners of My Sister’s Books are truly passionate about reading and they know what their customers want. I saw one of the sister’s go and pull a book for a customer and saw the delight of that customer to be treated so personally. I would hope the employees a the big box bookseller would also be passionate about books.  I know they are locals who are glad to be employed, but I get the sense their enthusiasm or drive to know their customers is lost in the corporate mindset they are trained with.

I think in the times we are living in, the only way to improve the state of the world, our nation, our state, our community and even our neighborhoods is through personal connections. Not through social media, but face to face contact, sharing our interests and our passions. Getting to know each other on a more intimate level, so we can have empathy and understanding for each other. I know if I had a choice between two businesses and one of them had gone out of their way to be friendly, or remember me, or to treat me as a person, not a dollar sign, that is the business I will return to again and again.

Small things add up to big things and do I dare say, could change the world.